Barbie Wilde’s “THE VENUS COMPLEX” (Book Review)
And so it goes with Michael Friday, the none-too-humble narrator of Barbie Wilde’s alarming first novel, The Venus Complex. The guy’s a total dick, and we’re stuck in his head. But the deeper we go, the more gripping it gets.
After a zesty introduction — featuring high-speed car crash spouse-icide — our pompous professorial hero gets the kind of brain damage that leaves him empathy-free for life. And I must warn you: the next 50 pages of Michael in rehab, grousing grumpily about how everybody in the stupid world is an idiot, made me wonder if I was actually gonna make it through the book. Let me tell you, he’s one tiresome, sour, cranky old bastard.
But then the dreams begin — ahhh, the horrible dreams — and his deeper damage reveals itself. That’s when his violent sexual compulsions become unbearable strong, until he has no choice but to act them out. At which point things get interesting in a hurry.
Wilde’s great triumph here is that she goes all the way with her man Friday, allowing his nasty flights of fancy full reign. Which means we’re there for every moment of planning. We’re there for the sex crimes themselves. Then we’re there for the cleanup, and the cycles that follow, from sickly self-congratulation to haunted, curdling self-doubt. We see him get bolder, fucking and killing with impunity, We watch him layer on the artistic pretensions, creating a mystique around his violations that brings him the flattering attention he craves.
Which brings us to the book’s grand finale, about which I will only say “Holy shit.” I don’t shock easy, but this one dropped my jaw a little. Never in a million years did I think that she’d let it play out this way. And if she were a man, she would doubtless take some heat. But damn if it doesn’t work.
So here’s the obligatory part of the review, where I mention that she played the hot cenobite in the original Hellraiser. But I think what I like most about this news story is that she kicked my ass so hard with her first novel.
Turns out Barbie Wilde is even scarier than we thought.
And that is a terrible, beautiful thing.
– John Skipp
Buy THE VENUS COMPLEX by Barbie Wilde from Comet Press, trade paperback and ebook, HERE